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Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

22December 2021

Minneapolis Star Tribune. December 19, 2021.

Editorial: A balanced approach to solving a mess

Minnesota should tap surplus to help front-line workers and struggling businesses.

One of the many lingering effects of the pandemic is the damage done to Minnesota’s once-brimming unemployment trust fund. The near complete shutdown of much of the state’s economy during the depths of the pandemic sent unemployment levels soaring, exhausting the fund.

The state then started borrowing from the federal government, as many states did, to continue unemployment benefits. Now the $1 billion bill has come due.

Dozens of states in similar straits relied on federal pandemic relief to restore their unemployment funds, a use which was specifically allowed by the federal government. Minnesota was among a handful that did not, hoping instead that the feds might eventually forgive the outstanding debt. But House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler told an editorial writer that the state’s recent news of a $7.7 billion projected surplus makes that option extremely unlikely.

Unless the Legislature takes action, the burden for replenishing the barren trust fund will fall on businesses still coping with labor issues, supply chain problems, nervous customers and the highest inflation rate in 40 years. Notices of the increases needed to rebuild the fund are already going out to businesses across the state, payable in the spring.

“We’re one of only 10 states that still have outstanding debt,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt told an editorial writer. “We’re an outlier. Thirty-four states used their federal money. They didn’t shove this cost onto their businesses. This is not just big businesses paying this increase. It’s every business in the state.”

Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, told an editorial writer that one member who runs a child care center was notified this week that their increase would total $14,000 — well over $1,000 a month in unanticipated costs. “Businesses are planning their year right now,” he said. “They’re having to make decisions about staffing.”

There’s another debt the state owes — as we noted in a previous editorial — to send $250 million in “hero bonuses” to front-line COVID-19 workers. Legislators have fought for months over who should get the money and how much. A major sticking point has been GOP insistence on giving a “meaningful” amount to a smaller pool of eligible workers, while Democrats have pushed for a larger pool that would include grocery, retail, child care, meat-packing and other workers who risked daily exposure to perform work that could not be done remotely.

Winkler pointed out to an editorial writer that adding the higher amount Republicans want to the larger number Democrats prefer nets out to about $1 billion.

This has the potential to be a serious win-win. Minnesota is awash in surplus funds. Sending substantial bonuses (about $1,500) to about 650,000 of the hardest-working Minnesotans who took some of the biggest risks is an appropriate use of that money. So too is giving businesses what would amount to $1 billion of tax relief.

Winkler said that while the trust fund is paid into by employers, “we recognize that some businesses, small businesses in particular, are struggling and should have some relief. But, if you are among those corporations who had a better year, I’m not super sympathetic. Not every business needs this level of relief.”

That said, he told an editorial writer, “I believe a lot of Republicans want to help front-line workers. I know a lot of Democrats want to help small businesses. It shouldn’t be hard to find agreement on this.”

In a recent letter to Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders, Democratic U.S. House Rep. Dean Phillips also made the case for business relief, specifically for “industries (that) rely on in-person service or gatherings, including the hospitality, live events and fitness industries.”

Phillips said he and his staff are in near-daily contact with “business owners who are taking on massive amounts of debt just to survive yet are still being forced to consider layoffs or even closure.”

It’s clear that there is bipartisan support for relief to help both businesses and workers. The state has the means and the knowledge that most of the money would quickly flow back into the economy.

All that remains now is the political will. “Everyone wants to support Main Street businesses, it seems,” Weinhagen told an editorial writer. “Everyone wants to support essential workers. But of all the things we should be rolling up sleeves on and working together, it’s a bit of a mystery to me why we haven’t been able to figure this out.”

___

St. Cloud Times. December 17, 2021.

Editorial: What’s it gonna take? Two reasons your vaccine decision affects others

What’s it gonna take?

When the first COVID-19 vaccine was offered roughly one year ago, vaccine-hesitant people said, with some logic, that emergency authorization wasn’t enough them and that wanted FDA approval before they took it.

After the vaccines got that FDA approval, the hesitant said they wanted to wait longer to see any long-term side effects.

Others say they’ve already had COVID, recovered just fine, and they don’t need a vaccine to protect themselves, and people who get vaccinated get sick, too.

The statement appears in every Facebook fight, every set of talking heads when vaccination is the topic: I choose this for myself, and it doesn’t affect anyone else – let them get vaccinated if they want. Who does it hurt?

All of us.

Reason 1: Unvaccinated people are far more likely to contract, become sick from and spread COVID-19. That means, without doubt, that they are more likely than healthy people to own the body where the virus mutates into a form that current vaccines and treatments can’t help.

That’s a direct line of cause and effect: Ill people are, by definition, more likely to foster dangerous mutations than people who are not infected. Mutations put even vaccinated people at risk.So taking all reasonable steps to keep from being “that guy” is vitally important and morally sound. It’s a choice that affects everyone.

That argument is not a hypothetical scare tactic. It’s happening now:

— On Tuesday, Eli Lilly and Regeneron announced that their own lab studies showed the omicron variant defeats their monoclonal anitbody cocktail. That treatment worked well against earlier variants. Another company says its protocal does work againt omicron, but what about the next variant? And can one company make enough for all of us?

— On Friday, Pfizer said its vaccines aren’t protecting children from 3-5 years old in their tests, so they’re going to attempt a three-shot series. We have not yet solved all of COVID’s mysteries, so limiting its ability to brew up more surprises seems like an easy call.

Vaccination decisions matter, and that message has been clear for months. Immune-compromised people, infants and children simply aren’t able to do it for themselves so we have to do it for them. And the longer we wait, the more likely our current defenses will be defeated, putting everyone back in that unprotected boat.

Aside from COVID-19, real people in our community are having important health care, including surgeries, delayed by the glut of COVID patients clogging our hospitals. If they’re lucky enough to avoid serious health consequences, they will still take a financial hit as the insurance year, and its associated deductible limits, turn over in less than two weeks.

And that hospital crowding? Are staffing issues to blame? Yes, in part. Health systems have mandated that their workers be vaccinated or they will not be allowed to work. Some workers have availed themselves of that option. But skilled medical staff are overwhelmingly vaccinated. In September, before FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccines, 88% of nurses and 96% of physicians in American had already been vaccinated or said they planned to, according to surveys by the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association.

So let’s liken our current strategy against COVID-19 to sports: Half of the offensive linemen are, at the snap, casually standing up and watching the defensive line burst forward and sack the quarterback – over and over.

While no line of defense, including the vaccine, is perfect, the protection is better when all the players put in some effort. “Well, the quarterback sometimes gets sacked even when we try, so what’s the point?” That’s not how we will crawl out of this mess. Are you “that guy”?

So now that the vaccine has been around for more than a year with no widespread side effects. The virus is starting to out-evolve our defenses. Our medical personnel are literally begging for cooperation, so what’s it going to take?

The experts have urged, explained, put up prizes and gift cards, scolded, made getting the vaccine more convenient (in addition to free), and are making it more inconvenient to not be vaccinated.

Please at least consider what it will take to make you, personally, change your mind. More research? More studies? You’ve been given you that. More deaths and cases? You’ve gotten that, too — 800,000 deaths in the U.S. so far, with more than 10,000 of them in Minnesota.

So, what’s it gonna take?

Dig in. If we’re all supposed to be on the same team — and we are — it’s time to defend one another. Take care this holiday season. We’d like to see you around for the next.

___

Mankato Free Press. December 18, 2021.

Editorial: In GOP vs. Mayo: We pick Mayo

Thumbs down to 38 members of the Minnesota House GOP caucus for their condemnation of the Mayo Clinic and its efforts to eradicate the spread of the COVID-19 virus that has killed 800,000 Americans.

We cannot fathom what these members of the GOP were thinking.

The House members signed a letter to Mayo condemning it for requiring its medical practitioners and health-care workers to be vaccinated.

Local legislators Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe; Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska; and John Petersburg, R-Waseca, signed the letter.

The GOP cited a “large number” of Mayo employees who were upset Mayo required the vaccine for their employees who, if unvaccinated, could spread the virus and endanger the lives of patients.

It’s hard to imagine that thought process here. It’s likely it didn’t involve science but how many political points legislators could make with the unvaccinated and the uninformed.

The letter, apparently penned by Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, threatens state funding if it enforces the mandate.

Mayo Clinic spokesman Karl Oestreich said it best in his response: “Beyond the ability to require vaccination, Mayo Clinic has a moral imperative to do so. Our staff provide care to transplant patients, cancer patients, immunocompromised patients and some of the most medically vulnerable people in the world. Mayo Clinic requires vaccination of our staff because it is the right thing to do for our patients and our community. Our vaccine requirement reflects the best available science. Our exemption process complies with applicable law.”

The letter also proffers the false notion that natural immunity is equal to getting the vaccine.

To their credit, some 26 other House GOP members did not sign the letter, but they will likely have to answer for the wayward 38.

These GOP legislators have gone beyond reason and rationality here.

Generous reading donation

Thumbs up to the recent donation by Mike and Tami Hoffman of a $1 million endowment to promote reading programs in three rural school districts.

Mike Hoffman is the nephew of longtime Delavan farmer and World War II veteran Mitchel Perrizo Jr., who was the epitome of a life-long learner. The funds will be donated in memory of Perrizo.

Blue Earth Area, United South Central and Maple River school districts will be the recipients of annual grants up to $15,000 starting this spring.

The Hoffmans are graduates of Blue Earth High School, and Mike is retired CEO of The Toro Co. They spend time between their Apple Valley home and their family farm in the Delavan area. They created the endowment in Perrizo’s memory because of his longtime embrace of reading and knowledge.

The money will be used for teacher training and to develop literacy programs and curriculum in the schools.

The generous donation will go to an important cause for these rural school districts and will be given in the spirit of Perrizo’s thirst for knowledge.

Embarrassing fundraiser

Thumbs down to the promotional giveaway at a hockey game in South Dakota.

The “Dash for Cash” event at a junior hockey game featured 10 local teachers on their hands and knees on a rug at center ice, scooping up $5,000 in donated $1 bills and stuffing them into their shirts and pockets. The promotion encouraged teachers to collect as much money as they could to help fund their classroom projects.

The promotion quickly drew outrage as critics noted the stunt turned schools’ chronic funding shortages into a public spectacle.

The promoters of the event no doubt had good intentions, but their charitable methods were not well thought out and they quickly apologized.

The event simply highlighted that South Dakota ranks near the bottom of U.S. states in teacher pay. Teachers spend about $750 a year out of their own pockets for classroom supplies and related expenses.

Perhaps a bit more state support for teachers and schools would be preferable to humiliating fundraisers.

END

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